Farm Bureau Challenges Environmental Group on Agricultural Phosphorus Reduction Efforts

As recently reported on Conduit Street, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has released reports criticizing agriculture’s efforts to reduce water pollution going into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  EIP called for the implementation of a new “phosphorus management tool” (PMT) that has been controversial with many in the agricultural community.  In a July 16 Cumberland Times-News opinion piece, the Maryland Farm Bureau challenged the findings of the EIP studies, arguing that a recent analysis by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Chesapeake Bay Program office shows Maryland is ahead of schedule in meeting its 2025 water pollution reduction goals.

“According to our Maryland progress data, we achieved our 2013 milestone reduction targets for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers via news release. “In fact, Maryland finished this 2012-2013 period more than 3.5 million pounds reduced ahead of schedule for nitrogen, nearly 147,000 pounds reduced ahead of schedule for phosphorus and nearly 90 million pounds reduced ahead of schedule for sediment which places us on the right trajectory to reach our 2017 and 2025 goals.”

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance said, “Maryland agriculture has exceeded its nutrient and sediment reduction goals for 2013. Our farmers have a long and proud tradition of environmental stewardship.” Even more progress will be recorded for agriculture once the bay model is updated to reflect current land use, livestock production and Best Management Practice (BMP) use, he said via news release.

The Farm Bureau is critical of the EIP studies in the opinion piece, arguing that the Eastern Shore rivers included in the EIP study contribute a very small amount of water and pollution to the Bay and that the study improperly implies that poultry manure is applied to farm fields in the same jurisdiction where the manure was generated.  The Farm Bureau also argued that it will take years to see the results of phosphorus reduction efforts taking place today:

Dr. Donald Boesch, Professor of Marine Science and President of the “University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, has often been quoted on the subject of excess phosphorus in the Bay as saying it took decades to reach this point. The U.S. Geological Survey’s study from 2013 says it might take decades to flush out the old, “dirty” water that is being monitored today that is the result of farm practices of decades ago.

“The timing of the EIP study seems to be intended to discount all the progress made by farmers in the recently released assessments by the state and federal governments,” said Chuck Fry, Maryland Farm Bureau President. “It is also appears to be a last ditch effort to save the Phosphorus Management Tool regulation.

The Farm Bureau also alleged shortcomings in the current EPA Bay Model and agreed with EIP’s call to update and fix the Bay Model to make sure that best management practices receive proper credit for their nitrogen and phosphorus reductions.

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the PMT